The other night on twitter, Rebecca from Lost in Books convinced me I should do an art history reading challenge. Yes, that's right--I'm so good at keeping track of challenges, I'm starting my own! This should be fun. :)
The Challenge in Ten Words or Less: Read six art history books in nine months.
When: September 1st, 2009-May 1st, 2010
The Details: Pick a subject related to art you want to read about. It can be as general or specific as you want. Then read 6 books about that subject from the categories listed below.
What do I mean by this? Well, say you're a fan of Lewis Carroll. Carroll was big into photography and there are several good books about his photographs. Then you could read one of Carroll's novels or a biography of him; or you could go in a different direction and read about other Victorian photographers, like Julia Cameron. This could lead to reading a book by Tennyson (who was Carmeron's next door neighbor and friend). Perhaps this example is a little more specific than most of you want to go, but trust me when I say that you can find art books related to practically any topic, place, or time period you can think of.
Or if you have a book related to art sitting around that you've been meaning to read, like The Da Vinci Code, you can start with that and build up the categories based on it--a catalog from the Louvre, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, etc.
One caveat: You can double-up on categories--e.g., read two fiction books instead of one--but the books you read have to be from at least 3 different categories to complete the challenge. Fortunately, a lot of books can also fit into more than one category, so you have a good deal of flexibility on what sort of books you can pick.
Theory is a filter through which one can interpret art. Some very well-known theorists (or people whose writings are the basis for theory) are Foucault, Marx, Freud, Georges Didi-Huberman, and TJ Clark.
These are usually shorter books that deal with a very specific subject--for example, Victorian nudes, or the art in a specific cathedral.
This is basically your typical textbook--a general overview of a subject. I know reading a textbook sounds like sooooo much fun, but there are good ones out there that are really interesting. The ones published by Phaidon are generally pretty good.
If you have access to an article database like JSTOR or Academic OneFile, you can try to get articles online. There are also some e-journals available for free online, like Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide.
Coffee table or picture books
Go for it.
These are books about history whose intended purpose is focused more towards entertainment than education (or a combo there of--entercation?). Something like the Digging for the Truth book would be a good example.
If you've ever visited a major museum exhibit, you might have noticed there are really thick, large, and expensive books for sale about the exhibition in the museum gift shop. These books usually contain a lot of super-useful essays and information about the works in the exhibit. Plus they have great pictures. Since these books are so expensive, you'll probably want to get them at the library; however, most libraries won't have them unless it's an academic library at a larger university. If you have access to ILL, that's probably your best bet.
What were the techniques artists used to create art? That's the sort of thing practicum books look into and usually try to teach to other people. This would be a great category for anyone with artistic inclinations.
There are lots of great biographies of artists, scholarly and not, that are readily available. You can also read biographies of people who were the subjects of a work of art.
Works by an Artist
A lot of artists like to write, too. JMW Turner wrote poetry, as did Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and Giorgio de Chirico wrote several works of fiction, including the first Surrealist novel. There are also artist/movement manifestos, letter collections, and artist autobiographies. My personal favorite of the latter is Salvador Dalí's.
Works Peripheral to an Artist or Movement
Artists and writers have a long history of hanging out together and influencing one another--Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites, for example. Artists also take a lot of inspiration from literature and classics for their work, so if you find out Manet was strongly influence by Baudelaire, or that a particular painting is an illustration of the Iliad (just to use an example) and want to read it, that would fall under this category.
There are some novels that take inspiration from the lives of artists, or from paintings. Susan Vreeland is probably the most well-known author of this type of novel. Or you could read a novel that uses art or a painting as a major feature in the work, even if that painting is completely imaginary, like in The Picture of Dorian Grey.
Want to watch a movie about the life of an artist? Or a movie made by an artist, or one that inspired an artist? Go for it! This category is also great for people who want to focus on a film-related subject.
How: Use Mr. Linky to link back to your blog (or tell me you're participating in the comments if you don't have a blog). In your post saying you'll participate in the challenge, tell us what subject you're going to be focusing on or starting off with. I'll keep track of the blogs and do a monthly update with everyone's progress. Feel free to grab the buttons at the top of this post for your own blog.
Prizes: I am planning on having prizes. Exactly what these prizes will be is TBD.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don't be! The important thing to remember is this is just to have fun and learn more about art and art history in completely free-form, self-guided way. And if you get stuck and don't know what subject to pick or what book to read, remember I'm your resource--just ask, I'll be happy to help!
If you want to check out another, completely different (oh yes completely different totally) art history reading challenge, go to The Art History Reading Challenge page.
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